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30 Digital Champions: The mum-friendly gift service ensuring you buy anything but flowers

For Steph Douglas, becoming a mother inspired her to create Don't Buy Her Flowers – a gift package service that encourages customers to treat mums to anything but a bouquet.
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After giving birth, Don’t Buy Her Flowers founder Steph Douglas realised that friends and family have the ridiculous notion that flowers are the go-to gift for new mothers – something that resulted in eight bouquets on her doorstep.

Seeking a more flexible lifestyle while solving the problem, Douglas created the business to cater to the needs of her fellow women.

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Connecting to customers physically and emotionally, Don’t Buy Her Flowers has achieved significant growth with the help of unpaid social media use, and finds itself named in our ongoing 30 Digital Champions campaign with Microsoft.

(1) Please give us a brief introduction to the business?

Don’t Buy Her Flowers is an online business selling thoughtful gift packages. The inspiration came when I had my first baby and received eight bunches of flowers. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and sore and it struck me as crazy that the go-to gift at a time when someone is doing more caring than they’ve ever done in their life is another thing to care for.

We started as gifts for new mums, and very quickly customers have chosen to also send our packages for birthdays, get well, thank you – any occasion when they want someone to feel loved.

(2) What have the significant growth milestones been since you started?

We’ve been going for nearly 18 months and have grown month on month. Ten months in sales grew at a more significant rate and it hasn’t stopped. I think it’s a cumulative affect – we’ve had some good PR, more people know about us and we seem to be a business that people like to tell others about – because they’ve bought or received a package and had a great reaction.

Taking on people to pack boxes, and the customer services, and more recently support with logistics and stock management – those are all things I was doing myself ten months ago so that’s very exciting.

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(3) What inspires you as an entrepreneur, and how does that come across with your company?

Women inspire me. Before I started the business, I started a blog about sisterhood and motherhood and the idea that we are all in it together because none of us really know what we’re doing. That connection with women is really motivating and is at the very heart of the business.

The insight was that being a new mum is actually pretty tough and we’re often rubbish at looking after ourselves and we stoically crash on – some support or a ‘you’re doing a great job’ message acknowledges that it’s ok to be finding it hard, because it is. We get lots of reports of recipients crying then they open our packages, because someone has thought of them.

(4) What kind of obstacles are you encountering as you grow your enterprise?

Mostly they’re actually personal rather than business-related as such – how to manage my time, how not to end up working all evening, every evening. In part I started the business because I wanted to find a more flexible way of working that would fit with my young family. I’m realising that’s not entirely the case!

I am flexible in that I can be there for pick-ups and drop-offs and I’ve no one to answer to, but a business is really consuming, particularly if you want to make it work. I’ve certainly never worked harder in my life, but it’s also the most exciting thing I’ve ever worked on. I think you have to accept that’s how it has to be at the start, because it wouldn’t make sense to employ lots of people when there isn’t the work (or sales) to justify it.

(5) For a company that isn’t technology based, how has a digital approach helped you to carve out a bigger market and acquire new customers?

The majority of our sales have been driven by social media. Because of the blog, I had a reasonable following when I started the business (the website crashed when we launched because people were so supportive!).

For a long time nearly 90 per cent of our traffic was coming via Facebook and Instagram, and that was through organic posts, not paid for. We also now get some great PR coverage, but again it’s the media or individuals that post about us online and in their social media that drive the traffic.

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(6) How is technology helping you to overcome hurdles, and what are the challenges of implementation?

We could do more technical stuff with the website and with CRM to our customers. One of the challenges though is, I think with social media, people are hearing from brands all the time, and if they follow and like you then they’ll see what you’re doing. Does anyone really want another email in their inbox?

So coming up with fresh ideas and ways to engage on social and other platforms is an ongoing challenge, but I love that we have that engagement with customers and potential customers. It’s such a powerful sales and communication tool, especially for small businesses as we can inject our personality and brand in to everything we do.

(7) Do you employ any kind of flexible working, and how does technology fit into this?

It’s critical! Three of the people working on Don’t Buy Her Flowers aren’t located here – one is actually in Spain. Two are mothers and were looking to get back in to work and keen to get involved in DBHF while still being available for their family.

That works for us at the moment because it’s a huge financial leap to take on permanent staff, and I’m really happy we can support working mothers too – it’s a great fit with what we do. Because the business is based online, as is the courier ordering and tracking, stock management etc, they can work from anywhere and at anytime.

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(8) What kind of technology tools can you not work without?

The website was built by Freshpage who are based a couple of hundred miles away so Skype and Messenger were critical tools to the process. There was also a large piece of customisation because our packages have options and add on, and we needed the site to manage the variations in stock that creates.

Stock management was less of an issue to start, but as we’re growing it’s trickier, so a very important part of the site as we wanted to build it for scale. Also online courier tracking, stock management, social media. It’s all central to the general working of the business.

(9) What kind of technology would help you better compete with larger rivals?

At the moment we’re very new in business terms so we’re focused on who we are and what we do and ensuring we don’t veer from that. The business idea came from an insight after I had my children. In my opinion, there isn’t a competitor doing what we do. There are plenty of gift companies, but we don’t just sell nice things – our packages are all about making someone feel cared for, whether that’s with indulgent products like the Recovery Package or something more practical such as the Some Like It Hot package.

We teamed up with COOK food to offer their vouchers in our packages because I know meals delivered to your door is an awesome gift for new parents or anyone needing some TLC. As we get bigger and have more resources I’m sure technology will play an even larger part, but in terms of ‘competing’ I think a large part of that is keeping focused, fresh and knowing who you are.

(10) Where do you want to take your business in the future?

There is so much opportunity with Don’t Buy Her Flowers. This first 18 months has been proving the concept, building a customer base, tweaking our message and products and now it’s about reaching more people.

Every time we get a piece of coverage, or a big blogger or celeb talking about us, we see a growth in customers because people ‘get’ it, so the focus is to continue to reach more people.

The possibilities are huge and we have so many ideas, but I know every successful business person I’ve ever spoken to has said it’s still early days and we should stay focused – remember why and what we started because that is what makes us different.

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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